The Isonzo

Date17 juin 1963
CourtPrize Council (France)
France, Prize Court.
The Isonzo.

War and neutrality Contraband Absolute contraband Manganese ore in transit for neutral State under enemy occupation Seizure and subsequent sale Compensation Whether sale price or, in circumstances of sale, additional indemnity payable The law of France.

Summary: The facts.The Compagnie belge des Mines, Minrais et Mtaux was the owner of 1,015 tons of manganese ore loaded in Angola on an Italian ship, the Isonzo, for a Belgian destination via Marseilles. In April 1940 the cargo was unloaded at Marseilles and authority was given for its transit across France. Belgium was occupied by German forces before the manganese could be moved, and the cargo was then seized by the French naval authorities who proceeded to sell it by auction in September 1940. The company claimed compensation.

Held: (1) that according to French law the Prize Court was competent to adjudicate on claims brought by nationals of neutral States. The Belgian company had neutral nationality when the ore was unloaded at Marseilles, and could not be held to have lost that status after the invasion of Belgium. Therefore the Court had jurisdiction in respect of the action. (2) The ore became absolute contraband as soon as, after the invasion of Belgium, it had a destination in enemy-occupied territory. The French Navy was therefore entitled to seize it and, in the circumstances of the case, to proceed to sell it. The owner was, however, entitled to the proceeds of sale at a fair price, and was therefore entitled to receive compensation at an equitable figure to allow for the difference between the net sale price realized and the current price of managanese ore.

The following is the text of the judgment:

In the name of the French people, the Prize Court has rendered the following decision. The parties are the Compagnie belge des Mines, Minrais et Mtaux, owner of 1,015 tons of manganese ore loaded at Lobito (Angola) on the Italian ship Isonzo and destined for Belgium, which was seized at Marseilles on 5 June 1940 by the [French] naval authorities, on the one hand, and the Secretary of State for the Navy, on the other hand.

The following documents have been considered: (1) The letter from the Minister for the Navy dated 18 March 1947 and deposited with the Secretariat of the Prize Court on 19 March 1947, enclosing the file on the claim for indemnity presented by the Compagnie belge des Mines, [etc.], and concerning the sale of 1,015 tons of manganese ore seized on the I...

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